Because Lafayette is a little over an hour from New York and Philadelphia, it is hard to find a fine dining restaurant that can compete with those set in large foodie capitals. However, Bolete, just twenty minutes from campus, attracts foodies from all over the region to eat at the 200-year-old stone farmhouse.
Bolete is not shy about its refined yet rustic feel. You may be inclined to pass the restaurant because there is no flashing sign that catches your attention from the road. Beautiful plants line the walk up to a nondescript wooden door. As I opened the creaky old door, I felt that I was entering a stranger’s home for dinner, which added to the intimacy of the visit.
The dimly lit dining room made for a rather romantic setting, but the menu is almost hard to read without a flashlight. The dining room balances its old-school feel with a chic modern style. The walls are filled with profile silhouette prints that evoke a minimalist yet elegant ambiance.
From a culinary point of view, Bolete prides itself for its farm-to-table philosophy by working with local farmers that provide impeccable products such as Liberty Gardens and Scholl Orchard. In addition to their sourcing, Bolete highlights their commitment to homemade products. They make all their own stocks, sauces, and pastas as well as butcher and smoke all their own meats. The restaurant is owned by the same couple who own Mr. Lee’s Noodles, Chef Lee Chizmar and and Erin Shea.
This level of care and attention to detail shows through in the quality of the food. The menu clearly evokes a sense of simplicity in the food. The chef lets the ingredients shine by minimizing the manipulation. However, he uses local products and numerous techniques to elevate the creativity and produce dishes that are both balanced and memorable. The menu reveals his brilliance and his vast experience in the culinary world.
My first course, the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare, was delightful as it successfully balanced the delicate elegance of the tuna with marinated tofu. I almost never eat tofu, but this dish completely changed my outlook on the vegetarian staple. The careful choice of accompaniments further balanced the flavors and textures. The smooth tuna and tofu were contrasted with the crisp celery root. There was a great sense of harmony in the dish, and the polished presentation added to its excellence.
I had the halibut in my second course, which was equally well-balanced and well-executed. The fish, paired with a delicious melody of vegetables, was cooked perfectly. The harmonious balance of flavor was rather astonishing and is reflective of the level of thought and rigor that the culinary team puts into these dishes. However, I felt that a depth of creativity was missing and while I ate the fish, I lacked a sense of discovery. While the dish was wonderful, I was convinced I had was not really experiencing anything particularly new.
I tend to think that dessert is the true differentiating factor between a good fine dining restaurant and a great one. Commonly, the chef will settle for the classic French and American line up of crowd pleasers. However, great restaurants challenge this notion to present a final course that is as great as the main course. Fortunately, the desserts returned to the kitchen’s rigorous creativity. My layered apple crepe cake was light, sweet and downright delicious. It contained the flavors of a classic apple tart but used a new technique to present this French staple.
The service was professional yet friendly, making the atmosphere relaxed and cozy, not uptight or snooty. However, at times the wait staff lacked in attentiveness. Water glasses and wine glasses would go empty for uncomfortably long periods of time. It was unfortunate to see simple mistakes being made at a restaurant of such high stature.
As you can imagine, this is a rather expensive experience. I would highly recommend this restaurant for graduation or other special occasions. Having your parents foot the bill might be the best option for us poor college students. With that said, Bolete is a great choice if you are trying to impress your date with a fancy restaurant. Reservations are an absolute must, and they should be made a month or more in advance to get a table.
Bolete is certainly one of the best restaurants in the Lehigh Valley because of its inventive creativity and perfect execution. Most other restaurants in the valley simply settle for crowd pleasers, but Bolete rises above to create a memorable culinary experience.